Livin' the American Dream

16th Oct 2019
Day 1

Imagine being cooped up in your house for more than two decades of your life. Not being big on traveling. Having debilitating spells of headache and a plethora of other "aches" when you have to be on the road for anything more than two hours. That's me.

And then a couple days ago, I packed my bags and was on a flight to the United States of America. Just like that. This is huge for me, and I had never been away from home for more than a week. This is huge for me, and I don't cope up well with the vagaries of the world at large. This is huge for me, because I have never been to the national capital of my home country, New Delhi, to begin with.

Daunting as it is, I have my best friend by my side who does a good job of putting an "un" before daunting. My husband. Having his company has taken the fear out of the equation. All that's left now is for me to jump on the States bandwagon and enjoy a thrilling ride of a lifetime.

We are on a budget and had to pull out as many stops as we could to gather our funds. On the other hand, we have a packed itinerary, which means we are trying to cover as many hotspots as we can in the span of a month while also trying to savour the flavour of the regions.

So we had to find the best bargain on our flights. Initially, Suresh wasn't ready to compromise on the flights and was holding on strongly to the notion that flight journey is the most integral part of any trip and that it ought to be as comfortable as it could possibly get. He was totally hung up on middle-east carriers, as they provide the best in-flight service. However, after careful consideration, I chose Air France, which turned out to be mediocre as we had already guessed. Besides, I had a sentimental connect to Paris and I had stood my ground. My husband had to relent, eventually. Even though I couldn't get even forty winks through 20 plus hours of flying across continents (an eight hour layover in Paris) and worried I might end up feeling sick or cranky, I fared reasonably well. My legs were stiff and I looked disheveled both on the inside and outside. But by the time we had landed and gone through immigration, all pain was forgotten.

As a bonus, we almost brushed against Patrick Dempsey at JFK, and it was the best welcome a new comer could have hoped for, in the States.

Photo of JFK Airport (JFK), Queens, NY, USA by Adita PS

Fortunately, we have family in New Jersey and my husband's uncle was waiting for us with a big smile plastered on his face. We didn't have to worry about finding a place to stay and once we got home, there were steaming idlis and piping hot thakkaali kolambu (tomato soup), and our aunt and adorable cousins welcomed us with fanfare and glee. I don't remember hitting the hay but when I woke up today, I felt fresh as a daisy from having slept through the night, with my legs sprawled out as far as it could go.

Day 2

Having a packed itinerary always calls for a thorough planning. It also paves way for a double whammy. Do we book everything beforehand and play safe or do we make plans as we go, to experience the thrill of spontaneity? Either way, you're bound to face some challenges. Book the tickets ahead of time, you end up with a rigid schedule and no place for adjustments. Even little slip-ups like missing a bus could prove fatal to your plan. The domino effect of one failed plan messing up with the next one could ruin your entire trip. On the other hand, if you book everything at the last minute, you will end up paying double the price and going bankrupt midway through the trip.

So we had to settle for a compromise between the two.  We drew up an itinerary first and once we had a rough plan, we booked the inland flights first. Because, once you book the flights, it gets easier for you to modify everything else according to the flight schedule. After days of going back and forth over the conundrum of whether or not we needed a couple of days off, after a tiring long-haul flight, we decided that we didn't need to hide behind the duvet and fake jetlag (read somewhere that jetlag hits harder on the way back).

And this morning, just as planned, we packed our overnighters and were ready to go by as early as seven, eventhough we had landed only yesterday night. After a short drive to the NJ Transit station, we boarded the metro which took us into the New York city.

Before the trip began, out of curiosity, we had booked a few services like our bus to Washington DC. One of the things that you should never do when you land in a new country is deciding that local sim cards could wait another day. Since the stores in NY don't open for business until 9, we decided that we would buy the sim cards as soon as we alight in DC. But without internet and navigation, we were blindsided. Eventhough we arrived at the location fifteen minutes early, we couldn't find the Greyhound terminal. We went round and round and asked around a few times, and at last when we found out where the station was, our bus had left. We were now left with no choice but to get new tickets.

Sure enough, our first bus trip was a memorable one with a gorgeous overlook out the window. Fall colours in America are every bit as beautiful as I'd always imagined they would be. Although it was raining for the most part, the trees had their resplendent moments in the sun which peeked from behind the clouds intermittently.

It was late in the afternoon when we reached Washington DC. The rain had abated but the constant drizzle added up to the chill in the air, making it impossible for us to stay out. As newcomers, we also didn't know where to go, since Union station is located bang in the middle of world's most formidable capital city, and there were no shops as far as eyes could see. We lost all hopes of buying a new sim card after having walked a couple of blocks, as 'en face de vous' was the Capitol building itself. Stranded in a new city and unable to bear the unusual cold despite having bundled ourselves up in layers of clothing, we asked our Airbnb host, Eric, to come and pick us up. Eric turned out to be a great host as he stopped his car at a provisions store on the way to Temple Hills, where we are staying the night. We have our sim cards and a semblance of connection to the world since our internet is back at long last. Eric has a cozy room upstairs and the amenities that he provides, for the price we paid, are unbelievably great.

We have a long day tomorrow and a much-awaited one too. Besides, our Washington DC tour starts tomorrow, so I better head back and help Suresh finalize the itinerary.

Day 3

I have hobbies. Some mainstream. Some unique. Traveling is a hip hobby. Most wannabe globetrotters get to become one with ease today. But there are a few that have fewer takers these days. Like shortwave radio. Shortwave radio was what gave me company through a better part of my teenage and my 20s too. It also connected me to the world outside when I was wary of real journeys and shut myself out in my room for years.

The world outside knows of all the historic and monumental milestones that DC has to offer. But very few have any knowledge of the hidden gems like this one, which has been the primary voice of the nation to the rest of the world for almost a century. My interest in radio as a hobby had grown phenomenally over the years, thanks to my dad's endless reminiscing about his time as a radio hobbyist. And it is no wonder that Voice of America was also the first station that got me hooked to the world of radio. I have been an ardent listener of one show in particular for ten years straight. It was on the insistence of this show's host did I get a speedy, no-holds-barred US visa, after that Schengen Visa debacle. (Sorry, I am just good at blowing things up.) Visa rejection is an entire adventure in itself, it is for another time.

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